Otaku transformations: first form, bad guys and shonen

Looking back on my love of anime, three key things stand out in my mind; the sinister smiles of my favourite shonen baddies, music discovered and rediscovered, and kicking back with a stack of simulcasts. These memories mark out the three stages I’ve been through leading up to the launch of the little anime blog.  Like my partner in otaku described in his own retrospective, I too was on-and-off in my anime watching until I fell for it hard once again this year. Realising I’m now back to stay and getting all nostalgic has made me want to share how I came to be writing this very blog.

For me, as was the ordinary fashion for many kids watching cartoons in the noughties, it all started with Dragon Ball Z. Though I’d convinced myself I didn’t like the screaming, ridiculous hair, more screaming and constant scuffles over wish-granting bouncy-ball looking orbs, something kept me coming back and watching it over my little sister’s shoulder. Here’s where the bad guys come in, starting with Vegeta, Prince of Saiyans.

Dragon Ball Z - Vegeta
With what little I can remember from fifteen years ago, I know I found him oddly charming. Coming back to DBZ now hasn’t cleared it up all that much. I can let the Dragons’ holey Ts and Cs and Goku’s sheer stupidity (in the fondest sense possible) slide, but what I see in him still has me scratching my head. I can only say that his naïve arrogance, standoffish grouchiness, and the fact that he throws out all the best insults as if to hide that he’s a bit sweet on the sly somehow comes together in an attractive package, even with his egg-shaped head and weird hairline. He was my favourite from the show then and still is now, though I do realise that after series one he doesn’t quite count as a bad guy. So, for favourite certified DBZ villain, I have a backup. This Frost Demon right here.

Dragon Ball Z - Frieza

Frieza, to me, is the franchise’s most masterful work of character design. I don’t think it’s likely that anyone who first saw him in their childhood wouldn’t still be impacted by his memory as an adult. He was intense to watch, threatening and genuinely alien, and he only grew more complex when I watched his dubbed saga again recently. Under Frieza’s biting wit and many forms, there’s a genderless quality to his character, highlighted by Christopher Ayres’ voice acting, that’s ever more relevant as society develops its understanding of gender as being non-binary. It almost seems a shame that he wasn’t referred to as a gender-neutral being in the anime, as it appears Dragon Ball’s creator Akira Toriyama also thinks of Frieza’s race as agendered, suggesting in an interview that his father, King Cold, was his only parent. But still, the more you ponder his origins, the more fascinating Frieza becomes. And speaking of mysterious origins brings me to one of my all-time favourite anime characters.

Hunter x Hunter 1999 - Hisoka

Hunter x Hunter’s Hisoka was there for me as a bridge between ‘going off anime’ at 20, and my fandom’s resurgence at 23. My only exposure to shonen three years ago being smatterings of DBZ and Pokémon, and with the 1999 anime adaptation being a slow starter anyway, it took some slogging through for a few episodes, but as soon as the central group was together I felt that warmth between the characters start to rub off on me, and my different connections take root between Gon, Killua, Kurapika and Leorio – ones which now run deeper than I could say without a whole new feature’s space. Then in stepped Hisoka, and back then I felt that this anime had finally become worth the trudge up to the Hunter exam. His almost narcissistic confidence coupled with his bloodlust made him an irresistible dark presence, all about his identity and past a mist, except for hints of a troubled relationship with his mother.

Though I was disappointed that the series couldn’t reach its end the first time round, and the 2011 reboot gave all the anime’s fans a chance to continue the story, I was unduly sceptical when I started to watch it this year. The reframed first episode gave me doubts after the expansive introduction of characters in the nineties’ version, which in hindsight I felt was a wonderful way to get to know the protagonists. But having heard great things I pressed on, and I now see the error of my prejudice. I’m not sure if it’s because of returning to these characters after knowing them for three years, or whether there really is a staggering leap between the characterisation in the original anime and the reboot, but my new closeness to Gon and Killua has made Hisoka that much more terrifying to watch, though no less seductive.

Hunter x Hunter 2011 - Gon and Hisoka

At some point while narrowing down the space between catching up with the end of the story, seeing the Magician waver in and out of sight as he sees fit, and enjoying following Gon and the gang in the meantime, I noticed that I’ve discovered the joys of getting caught up in a long-running shonen series. As you spend weeks and months with these characters, befriending and bonding with them, you join them in discovering the wonders and dangers of a new world. And pretty soon, as you see the obstacles you face reflected in ones they overcame, you only need think of how they would advise you to feel a little bit stronger.

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